US Sanctions Chinese Officials Over Crackdowns in Hong Kong

March 18, 2021James R. Webb
chinese hong kong sanctions

On July 1st, 2020, the first day of the implementation of the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law, tens of thousands of people gathered on the streets to protest the implementation. Photo by Iris Tong/Voice of America, public domain.

On Tuesday evening the US announced sanctions on two dozen Chinese officials over Beijing’s crackdowns in Hong Kong. The sanctions come amid rising tensions between the US and China, and just a day ahead of the Biden administration’s first in-person meeting with Chinese officials, set to take place March 18 in Alaska.

In a statement on the new sanctions, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cited Beijing’s plans — approved by Chinese lawmakers last week — to revamp the electoral system in Hong Kong. The new law ensures that only “patriots” will be allowed to attain office. 

Washington’s sanctions target 14 vice chairs of the Chinese legislature’s standing committee, the most senior of whom was Wang Chen, a member of the Communist Party’s 25-member Politburo. These officials, who include senior Chinese lawmakers and Hong Kong-based security officials, had already been sanctioned by the Trump administration under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act.

chinese hong kong sanctions
The Chinese flag in Beijing, China, on Oct. 16, 2009. Photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons.

Signed into law by then President Donald Trump in July 2020, the measure requires periodic updates on the autonomy of Hong Kong, as well as mandatory sanctions on individuals complicit in suppressing democratic rule in the city.

Trump first levied sanctions under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act in November 2020, after China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee, or NPCSC, disqualified Hong Kong legislators who “publicize or support independence,” “seek foreign interference,” or pursue “other activities that endanger national security.” After the four initial legislators were disqualified, another 15 resigned.

“Today’s update identifies 24 PRC and Hong Kong officials whose actions have reduced Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy,” Blinken released in a statement.

The move drew immediate condemnation from the Chinese government. Chinese Foreign Minister Zhao Lijian, speaking at a press conference, called on the US to stop interfering in China’s internal affairs. Beijing would undertake “forceful measures” to defend its national interest and the rights of Chinese citizens, Zhao said.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is greeted by US Forces Korea Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. Scott L. Pleus upon arrival at Osan Air Base in South Korea on March 17, 2021. Photo by Ron Przysucha/State Department, public domain.

Previous sanctions by the Trump administration froze assets individuals may have had in the US and prevented travel to the US by sanctioned persons. Banks with US ties often refuse to do business with sanctioned individuals due to possible legal repercussions.

“The United States stands united with our allies and partners in speaking out for the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong, and we will respond when the PRC fails to meet its obligations,” Blinken said.

These sanctions follow recent strong statements from Blinken regarding Chinese expansion into Japanese territorial waters. In a March 16 statement, the secretary of state reaffirmed the “United States’ unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan under Article V of our security treaty, which includes the Senkaku Islands.” 

“The United States remains opposed to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” Blinken added.

China has claimed the Japanese-administered islands since the 1970s, shortly after the discovery of large natural gas and oil deposits.

James R. Webb
James R. Webb

James Webb served as a US Marine infantryman from 2005 to 2010, completing a combat tour in Iraq. He’s worked as a freelance writer and photojournalist covering US troops in Afghanistan, and Webb spent more than two years in the US Senate as a military legislative assistant and as the personal representative of a member on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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